U.S. trade chief casts doubt on Canada joining new NAFTA deal
State Department announces closure of PLO mission in Washington
The State Department on Monday announced it will close the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) offices in Washington, D.C., arguing it had failed to take steps "to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel."
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert added the decision was also prompted by Palestinian plans to bring charges against Israel for war crimes in the International Criminal Court.
"The United States continues to believe that direct negotiations between the two parties are the only way forward," the statement adds. "We are not retreating from our efforts to achieve a lasting and comprehensive peace."
Nauert's statement criticized the PLO's leadership for what she said was a refusal to engage with the U.S. government on peace efforts. She criticized the PLO for condemning a U.S. peace plan "they have not yet seen."
PLO Secretary General Saeb Erekat said in a statement before the official announcement that "the rights of the Palestinian people are not for sale."
"[W]e will not succumb to US threats and bullying and that we will continue our legitimate struggle for freedom, justice, and independence, including by all political and legal means possible," Erekat added.
The U.S. has announced several significant cutbacks in aid to Palestinians in recent weeks, including a $200 million rollback in economic aid and a freeze on all funding for a United Nations body that assists Palestinian refugees.
The State Department is also redirecting $25 million originally planned for Palestinians visiting East Jerusalem hospitals. The department said in a statement to The Hill on Sunday that money will go towards "high-priority projects elsewhere."
White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt have been tasked with creating a Middle East peace plan, which they have yet to release.
"Over the past 19 months we have probed all relevant parties about many ideas and possibilities," Greenblatt said in a statement to The Hill at the beginning of September. "The plan, when released, will reflect ideas that we think are realistic, fair and implementable that will enhance the lives of the Israeli and Palestinian people."
Tensions between the Trump administration and Palestinian authorities have been escalating since President Trump's announcement that the U.S. would move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, a move denounced by Palestinians as a reversal of international law that grants them partial ownership of the conflict-ridden city.
--This report was updated at 11:51 a.m.